Sears Point: Winning team interview

Tony Stewart wins at Sonoma Post-race quotes Infineon Raceway Tony Stewart and Greg Zipadelli (Crew Chief) - ...

Tony Stewart wins at Sonoma

Post-race quotes
Infineon Raceway

Tony Stewart and Greg Zipadelli (Crew Chief) - #20 The Home Depot Chevrolet
Winner

Note: First victory of 2005, second win at Infineon Raceway (2001).

TELL US ABOUT THE DAY AND THE CAR TODAY AND HOW HARD YOU'VE BEEN WORKING TO GET THIS FIRST WIN THIS YEAR

Zipadelli: Yeah, it kind of felt like forever. I started to doubt myself if we could do it. We had some good opportunities this year and we let them slip away. I think last week was a big charge for everybody. We were close again and didn't capitalize on it. Unloaded here with a pretty good race. We were a little free and had to adjust on it. But we got a good handle on it early. Happy hour went really well. We had a good car and were able to try things that you're normally not able to try. So, I'm just proud of everybody for putting the effort in and bringing a great race car right from the truck. That's what you've got to every week to win, and that's what we've been racing against all year.

TELL US ABOUT HOW HENDRICK AND ROUSH HAVE CHANGED COMPETITION THIS YEAR AND HOW TEAMS HAVE WORKED TO BATTLE AGAINST THAT?

Zipadelli: In NEXTEL Cup, it's so hard and it's so competitive, it's hard to believe one team can be so dominant as hard as it is to win. But when you have something that really works, and you can ride that wave, you better ride it and take advantage of it because there are other people that are going to be coming and knocking you down. For everyone at Joe Gibbs Racing, this is a huge win. I think last week was a great qualifying effort and a great run at a 1.5-2.0-mile race track. It's kind of where we've struggled this year. I think that was a big boost. We definitely aren't out of the deep water, but we're getting a handle on things and our stuff is better than it was earlier in the year.

TELL US ABOUT YOUR RACE

Stewart: Yeah, it was an awesome day, obviously. In the beginning, it was fun trying to size up Jeff Gordon trying to figure out what we were going to do to contend with him for the win. You know, it was kind of a sick feeling in your stomach when I saw him have his problems. As much as it really helped us, it was one of those situations where it puts an asterisk beside it for me in my mind, because I really wanted to race him for the win. I feel like we got a lot of help with his problem today. But, it wasn't a cakewalk at that point either. Toward the end of the race with 30 laps to go, I lost fourth gear and it wasn't but a couple laps after that where it popped down to third gear twice and I thought, I can survive without fourth gear but I can't survive without third gear. So, just kept holding in it gear and trying to hold it where it wasn't tearing it up. Made sure that it wasn't jumping out of third anymore, but it made it really hard to get through the esses and down through ten.

That was our strongest part of the race track -getting down into 10 and 11 where we could get underneath guys in the braking zone. But, it made it real difficult driving it with one hand and trying to be smooth with a guy like Ricky Rudd who is so smooth on road courses anyway. And, he's smart and knew that was my strong part of the track and you could see him doing whatever he could, going into 10 to try to get as good a run off of 10 as he could to protect himself. But, we worked him really hard there for a while and got the tires hot trying to stay with him. That was the only part of the track that I could run faster than him. Zippy and I worked really hard to make sure it was a strong part of the track for us.

You know, got the tires hot and got to driving the car with one hand, I was making mistakes and that makes it a lot better for me. (Off of turn 10), I about lost the car once there, thought that I needed to take a couple of laps and get my rhythm and not really try to pressure him, but try to get my tires a chance to cool off a little bit, make another run at him. About three or four laps later I kept running the car straight and not slipping in the rear tires and got a run in on him again. Every time he saw us get a run, he would block inside and made me think that somebody's got to turn his TV off-he's watching too many Indy Car and Formula 1 races. If he thinks that's the way we're supposed to do it. I hate it. The unfortunate part is that that's the way I probably would have had to do the same thing, too. It's something that I disagree with in this sport.

I mean, if a guy gets a run and if you can't beat him in the corner, you don't deserve to beat him in the corner. But, the one thing I do appreciate about him, even though he was blocking us, is that he wasn't changing lanes. He was committing to one line and he was sticking to it. And that's definitely more acceptable than a guy who's just watching the mirrors and if he moves somewhere. Every time I got to the outside of him, he wasn't trying to move me up the race track and all that. He gave me racing room and that part I did appreciate. It was just a matter of trying to catch him off guard. The one time I thought that I might be able to stay with him coming off of 11, drag race him off the front stretch. Just missed him and didn't really get that opportunity again for a while. The lap we got by, I went to the outside and he went down and saw us coming. You know, I just waited until real late thinking that would distract his focus and he was concentrating on the markers going in. When I ducked down there and he didn't move, I knew all I had to do was just get beside him. At that point I had the line. I just got down there.

It wasn't the most graceful entry-it didn't look bad, but I didn't downshift til I got to the corner and I was still in third gear when I started turning in. It wasn't my fastest lap by any means but it was enough to get to the right spot on the race track to get by him and from there it was just a matter of-as Zippy said, just hit your marks and the same thing for 10 more laps. Didn't run any harder than we had to, in case we got a caution. And sure enough we got one and it was just a matter of keeping my tires clean and just not making mistakes. I didn't run my fastest laps my last five laps, but I ran clean consistent laps and that's what we needed to do.

WHAT WAS YOUR STRATEGY FOR PASSING HIM IN TURN 11?

Stewart: Yeah, like I said, that's probably the easiest area of the track to pass. It's the fastest part, it's the longest braking area. And it's something that Zippy and I have worked on a lot. You know, we just kept watching guys and I watched guys that were struggling. Just seemed like I got the timing right and not really pressuring guys through the end. Kept trying to run straight so when I did get that opportunity, I could get a run through ten and get into the inside. You know, you don't have to smoke by them. All you have to do is get underneath them and once you're underneath them, you've got the spot pretty much.

WERE THERE CONCERNS THAT YOU WOULDN'T GET BY #21?

Stewart: Yeah, I mean, after five or six laps after not being able to get by and the trouble I was having shifting. Like I said, with the tires I was having getting the tires hot getting through ten, shifting, I thought man, I don't know if I'm going to be able to get by him. They've been putting neat little messages on my dash to remember. It's been a frustrating season for the whole team. But, we've all worked really hard together and there was a sign on there that said "Patience." At that point, the best thing to do was just not overdrive the car, slow down a little bit. I didn't have to pressure him at that point. It was better for me to let the tires cool off. Once I did that, I got my speed back and when I got my speed back, it gave me another chance to get another run at him.

FRUSTRATING SEASON, BUT NOW YOU'RE FOURTH IN POINTS AND YOU'RE USUALLY STRONGER IN THE SECOND HALF OF THE SEASON. DOES THIS GIVE YOU BIG MOMENTUM?

Stewart: I don't know. Last fall didn't fall into our typical routine of being real strong that last third of the season. We were kind of hit and miss some places. I think we'll be better this year, but this year's a whole different year. There's no guarantees on anything. We're not counting on that history as being the deciding factor. We need to go do our work. That's the great thing about the shop right now. You know, Zippy was reminding me that if we bang into somebody on one side, they're having to take a side off the car. We've lost a couple cars the past couple weeks that destroyed the frame, so they had to build all new cars. Everybody in the shop has been playing catchup and trying to keep up with what we've been destroying as drivers. It was nice last week. We all had a good run and finished on the lead lap. Took three cars and put them on the truck that didn't need to have sides put on them. I don't know if the other cars were like that today, but we didn't tear anything up today other than the transmission and we don't mind making that guy work a little bit harder for an extra week. He's had it pretty easy this year. It hopefully gives us a chance to move forward instead of playing catch up every week, to try to progress forward to try to try things to see if we can do something to catch up with the Hendrick and Roush teams.

IS SOME OF THE FRUSTRATION THIS YEAR COMING FROM LEADING THE MOST LAPS AND THEN NOT WINNING RACES

Stewart: I don't think we led the most laps today, did we? We did? Still, heck with it, we'll lead them anyway. I'll take it anyway. Yeah, it is frustrating when you lead the most laps and you don't finish it. It's just frustrating when you know there are two teams that are really dominant and you have a day where you feel you've got it winning and you can't capitalize on it-that's when it's frustrating. When you have a team that finishes in the top 5 that week, you feel like you've got a great shot af finishing it off the next week. You know, we've had three opportunities not counting today where we feel we've had a shot at winning the race and you know, something happened where we ended up second or further back than that. It was just nice to finish one off, period. Not necessarily whether you led the most laps or not. Definitely on those days where you do lead the most laps, it's frustrating to lead that much to have the fastest car and not be able to win.

SEEMS LIKE SIGNIFICANT TRANSMISSION PROBLEMS HERE. CAN YOU EXPLAIN WHY?

Stewart: No, I don't build transmissions. You'll have to ask somebody else. I honestly don't know. They don't let me touch wrenches on the car at this level. They say they pay those high-priced guys down there in uniforms to do that. I don't know. I don't know what the problem is with them. Definitely makes the concern. When you see Jimmie Johnson's car up there on jack stands and they're working on it, you assume it's a transmission problem. You're sitting there going, man, what's going on there today? When I lost fourth gear, I thought, man is the rest of it going to go? It was working it''s way down the gear selection, but it had enough to finish.

YOU SAID EARLIER THAT IT WOULD BE AN ASTERISK NEXT TO THIS WIN BECAUSE GORDON WENT OUT EARLY. WHY IS IT SO IMPORTANT?

Stewart: You want to beat everybody out there. Jeff's a guy where you look at his history in the sport and he's won a lot of road course races. I'm proud of the races I have won up to this point and I'm still proud of what we did today considering the circumstances and the way that it all played out. There are guys that would be content to win today, but I'm more competitive that that. I want to beat the guys because I outraced them. I don't want to beat them due to attrition or due to mechanical failure. I want to beat them straight up and know that my team and myself beat them on the race track, not because of a part failure.

DO YOU CONSIDER YOURSELF AN ATHLETE?

Stewart:

With a cut like this do you consider me an athlete? Define athlete, I guess.

JUST WONDERING BECAUSE YOU SAID EARLIER ABOUT YOUR REGIMEN WAS CHANNEL UP, CHANNEL DOWN

Stewart: And it will be the same regimen tonight. And the two days when I'm relaxing at home.

SOME PEOPLE DON'T CONSIDER RACE CAR DRIVERS ATHLETES

Stewart: I mean, anybody that doesn't think we're athletes-do we run all day long? No. Do we start on a three point stance and run into each other when the ball snaps? No. Well, we run into each other. But not because of the ball snapped. And they're running from dead stop, we've got a running start when we hit something. But, put those guys in a 130-140 degree car and we're pulling the G's we pull all day. It's a different fitness. Some are used to running a lot and jumping a lot, close to the ground and hitting each other. Some are used to swinging a bat. Runners run. Baseball players don't spend the majority of their time running. They stand in the batter's box and they go through infield and outfield practice. I believe we're athletes. But it's just a different form. There's just different conditioning we have to get used to, to do what we do. We're pulling G's where those guys aren't pulling any G's. You take some of these guys that are the best athletes in the world and put them in a 140 degree car, and make them go around the race track for 20 laps and they'll be tired because they're not used to it. Just like we'd be tired to do their sport. Trust me, I'm not going to proclaim that I'm an athlete, but I'm going to proclaim that racers are athletes and I don't fit the athlete profile, I don't think. I say that, but Refrigerator Perry was fat, too, and he was an athlete. So, yes I am an athlete.

COMMENTS ON FUEL STATUS AT THE END OF THE RACE

Zipadelli: Not at all. We waited until we could go to a green-white checkered, if we had to. We could have gone three more laps, if needed. We just felt like we had a good car and we weren't going to take a chance of having something. And we've had more green-white checkered flags lately, than we used to. So, that was in the back of our mind on our last stop.

YOU KEPT YOUR PIT STOP STRATEGY TO A 2-STOP WINDOW REGARDLESS OF WHAT HAPPENED ON THE TRACK, CORRECT?

Zipadelli: We did, and it almost bit us there with five or six before that when all those guys stayed out. We couldn't take a chance of making a mistake. I felt like that was our safest bet.

IS A ROAD COURSE WIN A SPECIAL WIN

Stewart: Yeah, because you only get two chances a year, as far as the Cup series is concerned. I'll be honest, I do take a lot of pride in the road course win. It's something I enjoy doing. I've been with the Crawford family three or four years now, running in the Grand-Am Series and have really enjoyed my team with those guys and the opportunity they've given me. It makes me feel good when I go back to Daytona and get ready for the Paul Revere race. Those guys are going to know I won this road course race going into it, so it helps me as far as those guys respecting me as a road course racer, not just some guy from the stock car side who is a high profile guy who was given a ride and chance to drive a road course car. I feel like I've earned the chance to drive a road course car now. I feel like those guys respect me a lot more because of that. To only have two chances a year on a road course and know that we've won the last two in a row, that's a great feeling for us.

YOU'VE BEEN IN A GREAT MOOD ALL WEEK. DID IT FEEL LIKE IT WAS GOING TO BE YOUR WEEK?

Stewart: Not because of my attitude by any means. It's just been one of those years. We sat down at the end of the year. That's the best thing that happened that I sat down with my race team and let them vent for a day and it was one of the most productive meetings as a race team that we've had since I've been there. Got a lot of things out in the air. From the start of the season we've had fun racing as a team and even the days where we've had problems, it's made it easier to go back to the shop and stick together as a team and not get down. When you have a team effort like that and a support group like that, if one person gets down it's easy to have that many guys that are on your side to help pick you up. We just have fun. We've simplified it. This series is so complicated with media and sponsor commitments, commitments with the race team, Zippy tries to run me like a dog on test schedules. It's hard to have a life, so it's hard to keep a positive attitude. And, the thing that we've done is simplified. We've done a lot of work this year. We find more things to do as a team now than we've ever done before. Whether it's playing cards or going to watch a movie or whatever it is. We've done it together and we're having fun.

Even though the results haven't shown this year. This is, in my opinion, probably one of the worst seasons we've had up until this point. But, at the same time, the attitude of the team is better than it's been since 1999. Even though it isn't the season that we've wanted, it's made it more acceptable. And that doesn't mean we're being complacent. And don't ask me the definition-I know I can't spell, but I know it's the right word. But it just makes it to where we're all on the same page and we're all working toward the same goal. We're all there to pick each other up and we're having fun with it. We were all down at San Franciso the other day after the media day and I found a shop that had a flag that said, "The beatings will continue until morale improves." And everybody that's come in that trailor has laughed their butt off that's seen that. So, you know, that's just the kind of thing we're doing. Having fun. Picking on each other. I was fighting with Scott in the trailer, having a fist fight-a play fist fight. And believe it or not, I actually won. That was a pretty big victory before the race even started. I feel like I've had a double duty day here today.

ATTITUDE OF THE TEAM FROM YOUR POINT OF VIEW, GREG?

Zipadelli: Well, Tony is a big part of this team. A lot of his attitude and the way he shows up, like myself, if I show up and I'm in a bad mood and I'm taking it out on the guys, then you've kind of set the tone for the weekend. We have a lot of responsibilities but I think one of them is being the best leaders we can. Be their friends, be people. It's important that Tony and myself set that tone. You ask a lot of those guys, and we need to give that back to them.

Stewart: Just something to add to that, I don't mean to interrupt, but Zippy is the one that's been the leader in that category. He's been the one to sit me down and say hey, you don't realize how much your attitude affects everybody else. This hasn't been something that Joe Gibbs has sat me down and said, or J.D. Gibbs. Zippy has said hey, you don't realize what you're doing to your own race team. So, it's not something that I've done myself or anybody else has done single handedly other than Zippy. Zippy is the one that led. When you look at Rusty Wallace, you think of him as the boss of his race team. I'm not the boss. This guy sitting next to me is the boss of this race team-he runs the show. And, he's been the leadership of the whole team since 1999.

-gm racing-

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Jeff Gordon , Tony Stewart , Rusty Wallace , Jimmie Johnson
Teams Joe Gibbs Racing